If it’s summertime in Greater Cincinnati and you’re a fan of music, chances are there is a music festival nearby to fit your tastes. Now bookended by big-timers like the Bunbury Music Festival (which presented its fourth annual fest June 5-7) and the early fall MidPoint Music Festival (coming up Sept. 25-27), the local festival scene is stronger than ever, showcasing a variety of genres and usually a good mix of local, regional and national acts.
Here’s a look at some of the outdoor music fests (including a few within 50 miles of Cincinnati) coming up for summer 2015:
Cincinnati Music Festival: It has changed names and shifted programming from Jazz to Soul/R&B over the years, but the legendary Cincinnati Music Festival — formerly the Macy’s Music Festival and, even more formerly, the Kool Jazz Festival, among other monikers — remains one of the most popular music fests in the region. Over the past few decades, the 53-year-old event has presented a mix of classic and contemporary R&B acts, and this year’s lineup is especially strong. On July 24, CMF has Maxwell, Jennifer Hudson, The O’Jays and more; July 25 brings Frankie Beverly & Maze, Jill Scott, Kem and others to Paul Brown Stadium. July 24-25.$55-$500. Paul Brown Stadium; cincymusicfestival.com.
Cincy Blues Fest: For more than two decades, the Cincy Blues Society has welcomed to town a slew of great, internationally renowned talent to its Cincy Blues Fest. It has also been the perfect opportunity to check the pulse of the local Blues scene, as organizers have always heavily showcased Cincinnati-area acts. This year’s headliners are especially strong, with Blues faves like Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, Cash Box Kings and Samantha Fish heading up the main stage. This year also sees the return of the Arches Boogie Piano Stage (a showcase of the “Boogie Woogie” style of Blues and one of the fest’s more unique attributes). Local performers are picked based on performances at the annual Cincy Blues Challenge, during which dozens of local musicians perform for judges; top winners also get to represent the Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis early next year. Aug. 7-8. $20 per day; $33 weekend pass. Sawyer Point; cincybluesfest.org.
Ohmstead: A true DIY affair, Ohmstead (founded by and named after late Cincy Jam band The Four Ohms) has been providing an eclectic mix of music in the great outdoors for the past 14 years. This year’s Ohmstead is slated for the VFW campground in Franklin, Ohio, about 40 miles north of Cincy, so be sure to bring your camping gear and hang out all weekend. The festival incudes an Artist & Vendor Village, but the real draw is the music. The 2015 lineup includes popular local Reggae/Roots/Jam/Rock crew Elementree Livity Project on both nights, as well as Cincy Funk superhero Freekbass, a reunion of The Ohms, Junya Be, The Almighty Get Down, Don’t Fear the Satellites and Rockstead, plus touring bands like Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and Glostick Willy. Aug. 21-23. $50. ohmstead.net.
Whispering Beard Folk Festival: Word of mouth has made Whispering Beard something area Roots/American fans eagerly anticipate all year. Located about 50 miles west of Cincinnati in the tiny town of Friendship, Ind. (at the intersection of First Street and Friendship Road, cozily enough), the festival has grown from a small gathering to its current, much-larger incarnation, showcasing the best of Greater Cincinnati’s rich Roots music scene, plus touring artists like Hayes Carll, The Fairfield Four, JD Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers and Todd Snider. The lineup for 2015’s edition has yet to be announced (Possessed By Paul James and Hackensaw Boys have announced their appearances on their own sites, though there has been no formal confirmation), but organizers have said that it has expanded this year’s fest to include Thursday performances, so expect the usual Beardo goodness and keep an eye on the festival website for the latest. Aug. 27-30. $20-$80. whisperingbeard.com.
NiFi Festival: The newest area music fest to be announced is a blockbuster 40 miles south of the city in Sparta, Ky., at the Kentucky Speedway, where racing fans from across the region make pilgrimages to watch cars drive fast and in circles. The NiFi Festival announced its jaw-dropping (and incredibly expensive) lineup in late May to excitement and a little confusion. The festival is presenting arena-level headliners from both the Rock world (Green Day, Kings of Leon) and Country world (Miranda Lambert, Brantley Gilbert). It’s not so much that Country and Rock don’t mix well at festivals; it’s just that many of these particular artists don’t seem to have crossover appeal with each other. On the Rock side, the fest has bands like Spoon, The New Pornographers, Built to Spill and Black Lips, while Country NiFi-ers include Trace Adkins, Hank Williams Jr. and Jake Owen. It’s unclear how the lineup will be split up by days, but so far the festival is only selling three-day passes. There are a wide range of camping options, including some “glamping” packages that include things like queen-sized beds and fresh linens. Tickets initially were being offered for $245, but, according to a post on the fest’s Facebook page, the price was dropped to $199 (for a limited time) after public feedback. If you ever wanted to see Bocephus fans commingling with Weezer die-hards, you finally have your chance. Aug. 28-30. $199-$250. nififest.com. ©
Northside Music Festival
On June 26 and 27, the Northside Tavern hosts the return of the Northside Music Festival on three stages, including one on its outdoor patio. The free fest has some of the city’s finest Indie and Rock (and even Indie Rock!) acts slated to appear, including Tweens, Dream Tiger, The Sundresses, Leggy, The Tigerlilies, The Slippery Lips, New Strange, Temple, Skeleton Hands, The Harlequins, Soledad Brothers and much more. The event is a great warm-up for Northside’s Rock N’ Roll Carnival. northsidetav.com.
Cincy Folk Festival
Greater Cincinnati’s Folk/Americana scene is one of our most thriving, and on June 27 at the Southgate House Revival, you’ll be able to catch some of its guiding lights — Young Heirlooms, Bulletville, Hickory Robot, Honey and Houston — at the Cincy Folk Festival. Presented by cincygroove.com (and benefitting radio station WNKU), the event will also feature touring artists like the AJ Ghent Band, David Gans and Chicago Farmer, and even more great locals, including Kim Taylor. southgatehouse.com.
Stanley's Reggae Fest
This fest returns for its fifth year to Stanley’s Pub on June 27, showcasing some perfect summertime music with vendors, Jamaican food and an outdoor patio stage (weather permitting) to soak up some rays with the tropical sounds. Cincinnati faves The Cliftones head up the lineup, which also features fellow locals Know Prisoners, Nashville, Tenn.’s Roots of a Rebellion and Columbus, Ohio Reggae/Rap/Rock crew Shrub. facebook.com/stanleys.pub.